Can a Luxury Tour be "Responsible"?
The short answer is yes, but only a handful of companies really do this properly. The high-end tourist brings in lots of money and can really make a difference. A quick visit to an orphanage to soothe the conscience of a $15,000 safari, can easily turn into a client sponsoring a nurse for ten years. This may have more impact than the volunteer who teaches English for 6 months and stays in a local hut. But the luxury tour operator has to pay more attention to the whims of their clients than the needs of the local community. Read my interview with &Beyond for more.
Can a Budget Tour be "Responsible"?
Occasionally a basic hotel will claim it is "eco-friendly" because it has no electricity, and the bathroom is a pit latrine in the back. Beware of this. But most budget tours do a great job of spreading their dollars directly to the local community by shopping at local markets, staying in locally owned hotels and eating at local restaurants. Part of being a "Responsible Traveler" is making sure that local communities directly benefit from your visit.
If you find a "deal" be sure the tour operator is not cutting costs in areas that you would not agree with. A cheaper Kilimanjaro trek for example can mean that the operator has cut porter salaries in order to protect its bottom line. Read more about this...
Recommended Responsible Tour Operators
A good resource for all trips and tours is Responsible Travel.com.
Many of the lodges, tour companies and properties that work with local communities, conservation organizations, and practice responsible tourism are linked to through the organizations below:
- In Kenya - Ecotourism Kenya
- In Ethiopia - TESFA
- In Uganda - Pearls of Uganda
- In Southern Africa - (South Africa, Angola, Mozambique, Malawi) - Sustainable Tourism Network
- In South Africa - Fair Trade in Tourism
- In Ghana - Nature, Conservation Research Center
- North Africa -- In Morocco and Tunisia you can book your own hotels by e-mail and use local transport to get around. Egypt has such a classic set tour itinerary that almost every tour company follows, so try a tour that gets you off the beaten track, check out Earthfoot.org.
There are numerous small-scale, local tour companies that have excellent records when it comes to responsible travel in Africa. For example, Andulela in Cape Town, or Jolinaiko Tours in West Africa. Here are some of the larger companies with offices in Europe and/or the US.